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Pharmaceutical sciences and the opioid crisis

Andrew Coop
Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

When started my graduate studies at the University of Bristol, I had no idea that it would lead to an intimate relationship with drugs of abuse. Working under the mentorship of the discoverer of buprenorphine, John Lewis, PhD, the whole of the drug abuse field was focused on the coming approval of buprenorphine to treat heroin dependence. When approval came, we were overjoyed, and it brought an urgently needed medication that has helped thousands of individuals. 

Those were heady days, but the chemistry of opioids like heroin and morphine was at a bit of a crossroads; we had buprenorphine and methadone to treat dependence, and countless opioids approved to treat pain. So why would chemists be needed?  The focus shifted to the development of opioids with lower side effects (especially constipation), leading to the wonderful peripherally restricted antagonists that reverse the constipation but not the central analgesia. Maybe we were too confident in our achievements in drug development and treating misuse, and the rate of prescriptions for opioids increased. Much has been written about the increase in opioid use and how it has led to the current opioid crisis, which I w ...

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